Movie review: Will Smith saves on baby-sitting with 'After Earth'

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICEMay 31, 2013 

Film Review After Earth

Not quite volcanic: Jaden Smith stars in the below-average sci-fi movie “After Earth.”

AP

  • AFTER EARTH

    •1/2

    Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images. Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz. Director: M. Night Shyamalan. Running time: 100 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 22, Edwards 14 in Nampa, Edwards 12 in Nampa, Edwards 9, Majestic 18 in Meridian.

Truth be told, "After Earth" wouldn't exist had Will Smith not cooked it up as yet another star vehicle for his son, Jaden. But since buying your kid a movie credit is a tradition that dates back to the beginnings of Hollywood, you can't hold that against it.

This sci-fi adventure about a boy who must become a man to save himself and his wounded warrior father on a hostile world is a corny, generally humorless M. Night Shyamalan picture without his trademark surprises and twists. It's a straightforward quest in which incapacitated Dad (Will) sends guilt-ridden, fearful teen son Kitai (Jaden) off to fetch a rescue beacon that broke free of the spaceship they crashed in.

This is Earth, 1,000 years after we've abandoned it. The buffalo and trees and vast migrating flocks of birds are back.

There are beasts in the primeval forest Kitai must cross - ferocious digital baboons and digitized tigers and killer digital condors. A digital monster named Ursa was being transported in the space ship. It's on the loose, too, tracking Kitai's "fear." There are rivers to cross and waterfalls and high cliffs he must fly from. The oxygen is thin, and the hot days yield to frigid nights that could kill him.

And every step of the way, Dad is sitting in front of holographic monitors, slowly bleeding out, "teaching" and leading his son.

Most of Dad's lectures are about controlling and mastering fear. But in odd moments, father and son hallucinate the layers of their strained relationship, the incident that scarred Kitai for life and that he fears his father blames him for. Sophie Okonedo plays the mom who insisted her would-be Ranger boy go off with legendary Ranger dad for bonding and adventure. Zoe Kravitz - yes, she was born into the business, too - plays the boy's sister.

A Will Smith action film that has him grimacing on his back, giving instructions, is nobody's idea of fun. Jaden, a good-looking kid with a hint of charisma, has to carry the film and doesn't have the presence to pull that off. And inexplicably, father and son have attempted Southern accents from over 1,000 years in the future. Epic enunciation fail.

The digitally augmented scenery is striking. But there's little here to separate Jaden from 100 peers who could have played this role as well, if not as prettily. Since Shyamalan's last film was the insipid "Last Airbender," perhaps that's the standard to judge it by - an undemanding, childish adventure picture for kids starring kids whose parents happen to be show business folk.

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